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MANSFIELD'S BOOK OF MANLY MEN
An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self
By STEPHEN MANSFIELD
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Stephen Mansfield
All rights reserved.
GENTLEMEN, WE BEGIN ...
Let me start by telling you about the night I became a man.
Years ago, I was traveling through the Middle East to do relief work in a troubled country. A problem arose with my visa. If all had gone according to plan, I would have flown into Damascus, traveled nine hours through the Syrian Desert, crossed the Euphrates River, and entered Iraq. I had done it several times before. On this particular trip, I never got out of Damascus.
I know this sounds like the start of a great adventure. It wasn't. I spent my days at the Damascus Sheraton eating bad hamburgers and arguing about Syrian football with the doorman like I knew enough to have an opinion. Now don't misunderstand: I'm going to tell this to my grandchildren like I'm Lawrence of Arabia, but you should know it wasn't true. I was bored. I ate pistachio nuts by the pound. I read everything I could find that was printed in English. I even got fitted for a bisht—the elegant outer robe Arab men sometimes wear. I had it made, put it on once, decided I looked regal, and then never wore it again. These were not my most productive days.
Fortunately, a friend of mine who was a member of the Syrian parliament heard I was stranded and came to my rescue. We'll call him Nadeem. He was a cool breeze of Arab hospitality. He took me to meet officials who could help me, feasted me at the finest restaurants in the city, and insisted that I go with him to his Orthodox church, though he knew I would not understand a word. When I reluctantly went with him that next Sunday morning, I found language no barrier. Hugs from little old Syrian ladies told me everything I needed to know. Nadeem knew they would. He was a good friend to me during those days.
It was because of Nadeem that I ended up on the roof of a hotel in downtown Damascus with a dozen Arab men. That's where I became a man.
Nadeem knew I was lonely, and he also wanted to show off his American friend, so he decided to host a small party. I urged him not to bother, but he insisted as though all honor depended upon it. Several nights later, I found myself atop a soaring Damascus hotel surrounded by high-ranking government officials, their submachine gun–toting bodyguards, several expensively dressed businessmen, and one man in a shemagh—the traditional Arab cloth headdress—who looked to me as though he had just come in from the desert. Of course, the desert was about three blocks away.
It was a stunningly clear Syrian night. The tents on that rooftop seemed to breathe with the evening breezes drifting in from the sand. It was mystical, and I wanted desperately to be still and quiet to take it all in.
Nadeem had other plans. He began by eagerly introducing me to his friends, and then he insisted I recount my life since birth along with everything he and I had ever discussed. This got the party started, meaning we spoke to each other as well as we could—which was badly—while we ate cashews the size of a man's thumb and bowls of watermelon. Some of the older ones smoked the nargillah, the intriguing Arab water pipe often called a hookah. All were gracious and interested, but there was only so much we could manage to communicate through our limited knowledge of each other's languages, and the conversation inevitably lagged.
That's when the more traditional-looking man wearing the shemagh leaned forward and asked a question. There was great wonder in his face, as though he was inquiring about one of the great mysteries of God.
It turned out he was.
"A son. Do you have?" he asked. I'm telling you every man on that roof stopped what he was doing and turned to hear my answer.
"I do," I replied.
"Ah." He grew excited. "His name?"
"Jonathan," I answered.
The man slapped his knee and shouted, "Aha! Then you have a new name! You are Abujon!" Suddenly, there was a lot of smiling and head nodding and Arab voices one on top of the other.
They could tell I didn't understand. Nadeem tried to explain. Apparently, when an Arab man has a son, his name changes. From that moment on, he is addressed with a combination of Abu, which means father, and the name of his son. Apparently, Arabs consider fatherhood so important that once a man becomes a father to a son, he is honored for it the rest of his life.
So I became Abujon.
When this was announced, that rooftop erupted. Men started shaking my hand and slapping me on the back. Food arrived by the platter-full: the best lamb I've ever had and naan and a dozen types of baklava. It just wouldn't end. After a while, music sounded from somewhere, and several of the men started teaching me an Arab dance, one holding his submachine gun in his other hand. It was a night! Finally, at three or four in the morning, they drove me back to the Sheraton and backslapped me out the car door.
"Gooood nyett, Abujon!"
I went to my room and, as spent as I was, I sat up hours longer staring out the window at the brilliant Damascus night. Something had happened to me. I could feel it but couldn't put words to it. I think I was afraid that if I didn't explain it to myself I would wake up the next morning and find that this powerful new thing was gone.
It came to me a day or two later. At first it was a great sadness, and then it became a ferocity and strength that has never left me.
I should tell you this: by the time of that night in Damascus, I was forty-one years old. I had been a Christian for twenty-three years. I had been a husband for seventeen years. I had been a father for thirteen years.
Yet never before in all of my life had I ever been welcomed into the fellowship of men. Not once. Not ever. Nor had I ever undergone any sort of ritual to mark any of the important turning points in my life as a man. No one had ever said to me, "Congratulations. You are now a man among men."
Frankly, I didn't know I needed to hear it.
When the moment finally did come, it was a gift of Arab men who issued the welcome with hardly a word. They named me. They celebrated me. They gave me gifts. They made it clear they understood. They counted me as one of their own.
It is impossible to fully describe what all this has meant since. The impact of that night is probably best captured in a single word: honor. Now, I had not lacked for honor in my life before that moment. I grew up the son of a decorated US Army officer. I eagerly played three sports a year in my youth and was recruited to play college football. I had friends who were sworn to me and I to them. I knew a bit about honor.
Still, never had I been honored in such a way that it summoned dormant forces from within me. Never before had honor given definition to my life, sealed me to men of common experience, or imparted meaning.
Yet all this and more had happened on that extraordinary night. Stirring new perspectives embedded themselves in my mind. To be a man. To have a son. To suddenly understand manhood as both a life to live and a tribe to belong to. For all my years yet to come, to be shaped by the calm, fierce knowing that I would live them as a man—not merely as a male—and as a father. To know the good this could be for those I loved.
All of this was born of that night. Yet it has taken me more words to describe the experience here than were spoken during all the hours on that rooftop. Some of the most important things about my life were defined that evening without any of them having been described or explained. I suppose this is the power of ritual, commemoration, and tradition. They impart more than they explain, summon more than was thought available.
Perhaps there is a lesson for us in this. I will risk offending—and not for the last time in these pages, I'm sure—by saying I suspect if such a moment had taken place somewhere in the Western world, it would have come with a torrent of words. It would have been talked to death. It would have come with a book, a seminar, a CD series, hours of concerned discussion, two recommended websites, a retreat, and a certificate to put on the wall. We'd probably still be talking about it ... having never actually done anything.
My friends in Syria lived differently. They arrived at the all-important word—Abujon—with two short questions. Once they ecstatically proclaimed it, they didn't have a great deal more to say. They didn't bother to explain much. In fact, they didn't even ask my permission. They just declared it and then celebrated my life in the tribe of men with the fiercest, manliest partying I've ever seen. Six hours later, they pushed me out the door.
"Go. Be a man. Be a father. Remember that you are part of us."
I had been a male for more than four decades when that night occurred. I learned in those hours, however, that you are not fully a man until you are a man among men who respect what it means to be a man—and who know how to summon manhood through honor.
* * *
My goal in this book is simple. I want to identify what a genuine man does—the virtues, the habits, the disciplines, the duties, the actions of true manhood—and then call men to do it. I mean exactly these words. This book is about doing. It is about action. There is certainly an appropriate moment for men to talk about their pasts, their wounds, theories of manhood, questions of values, and their ongoing war with the society around them. This isn't it. This book is about knowing the deeds that comprise manhood and doing those deeds until mere males become genuine men. For fun and for simplicity, I call these genuine men manly men in these pages.
My conviction—and it underlies all that is ahead—is that we become what we do, that we are the sum of our habits. I should say quickly I do not believe we are only the sum of our habits. I am a Christian, and so I believe there is more at work in our lives than the product of what we do. Thank God! To be a Christian is to believe the grace of Jesus breaks the unending, hellish cycle of cause and effect. I don't want to live forever in the cancerous wake of my evil deeds. Grace intervenes. The Spirit makes me new. I'm freed, even from myself.
Trust me, I get all this and have based my life upon it. Still, even after grace comes to us, virtues have to be perfected. Our habits have to be formed. Our actions have to be aligned with the grace we have received.
We often miss this emphasis in Scripture. Consider just one verse on the subject: "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5–8 NIV). Clearly, we are given faith and we are taught knowledge, but to make both productive, we have to devote ourselves to a lifelong project of developing traits, attitudes, and habits. The apostle Peter calls them qualities in these verses. Otherwise, we'll be "ineffective and unproductive" despite the grace and knowledge we possess.
If we lived in an ideal world, every man would learn the traits of manliness as part of a dynamic body of righteous men. He would have models in these older men. He would have a tribe. He would be initiated, honored, challenged, trained, corrected, and commissioned by these men. In fact, in an ideal world, a man would barely be able to identify what had made him a great man, a genuine man. It would all be natural and woven into life. It would just be.
Most of us have never had anything like this. Almost none of us. It is a loss, but it doesn't have to mean devastation. Instead, it means we have to put ourselves in a position to absorb the manly virtues another way. That's why I've written this book.
I intend here to put us among true men. I'm going to describe the characteristics of vital manhood as illustrated in some of the great lives of history, lives that reveal what we must do to be true men. These men are part of what the New Testament calls our "cloud of witnesses." I think of the men in these pages as our cloud of witnesses to manliness.
Imagine sitting with Winston Churchill and asking him what he had to overcome to be a great man. Imagine asking this same question of Booker T. Washington or Rudyard Kipling or Jonathan, son of King Saul. I think using inspiring tales from the lives of great men of the past makes the journey fascinating. I think it connects us with a heritage and points us toward a destiny. It also gives us tools for defining manhood for the next generation of men, those who look to us to show them what to do. We want to give them far more than we received. The great men of history—our fathers, in a broad sense—help us do this.
Fear not, though; this will not be some dusty volume of dates and dead people. History can be more than that. It lives. It breathes. It can be rowdy and fun. It has power and nobility to impart.
The great men of old have much to offer us, and we should not neglect their gifts. In these pages, we won't.
* * *
There are a few important matters to settle before we begin.
The first is the issue of women. It is an evil of our age—perhaps of every age—that there is tension and competition between the genders. Do a search for the word men on the Internet and most of what you find is about the antagonisms, animosities, and disappointments that separate men and women. Most of what is "for" men is inherently "against" women. The reverse is also true.
Let's be clear. This book is about men being strong, moral, dutiful, virtuous men—frankly, great men—in part because it is the best gift we can give to women. There is nothing in this book that diminishes women, dismisses women, or denigrates women. Instead, much of this book is about how a man is measured in large part by who he is for the women in his life. I can certainly understand why some women might fear a book about how men can be "true men." This has not always worked out well for women in the past. Trust me, women will only gain from what this book encourages in their men.
Having said this, though, I should also say that this book is Cosc ar cailíní, as our Irish-speaking friends would say: "Not for girls!"
Second, we live in an age that defines people largely by appearance. The body is the man. The look is the woman. There is almost no separating the outer from the inner, the true man from the physical vessel he occupies in this life.
This overemphasis on what is seen has had tragic consequences for some men. Some of us just don't look "manly" in the traditional sense. We are thin or un-muscular or high-voiced or perhaps even effeminate in the way we move. These features tempt us to believe that we are condemned to some form of un-manly, un-masculine life. Meanwhile, our more hairy, more muscular friends are considered manly merely for their appearance.
Hear me: I don't care about your appearance. Manliness, in my view, is about doing. It doesn't matter what you look like. I'm neither put off by nor in awe of the physical. I've known great men who are three and a half feet tall. I know an awe-inspiring man who has no arms or legs. I've known powerful, dynamic men who looked like women from a distance. I've known immoral men who had testosterone to spare. It is the doing, the deeds, the actions that make a male a man.
This is good news. Any man, no matter his appearance or voice, can be a great man, because masculine greatness is about the doing, not about the appearance. This means that the guy with the squeaky voice and the twenty-eight-inch waist and the walk that he wishes he could change can be a man in the truest sense. It also means that the guy with the twenty-eight-inch bicep is responsible for the same standard of manliness, no matter his physique. True manliness is about the determination to act according to a noble definition of what it means to be a man. This is within the reach of every man, no matter how he looks or sounds.
Excerpted from MANSFIELD'S BOOK OF MANLY MEN by STEPHEN MANSFIELD. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Mansfield. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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